Posted in musings, Uncategorized

thoughts upon meeting a therapist

So, I rather suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly made an appointment with a therapist through the Employee Assistance Office at my place of employment (how lucky am I to have an EAO with full-time therapists and even a psychiatrist on staff? With a wait time of less than a week?), after contemplating it on and off for the last 6 years. I’m not sure what I expected, but we basically just talked about all my problems for an hour ūüėõ Actually, it’s a sign of how down I have been feeling that I couldn’t think of anything to say when she asked me what my strengths were…

Overall, the appointment was far less emotional than I feared (thanks to my therapist’s supportive and professional demeanor, not the probing questions that triggered some tears on my end) and far more encouraging than I anticipated. At the end of the session we came up with some long-term goals for the therapy and some short-term assignments for me to work on during the two weeks before my next appointment, which in and of itself gave me a lot of¬†hope about how I’ve been feeling. As I’m just beginning to realize, I do much better in life when I have a plan for how to deal with things. When I was a teenager, I always struggled with cleaning my room because I never knew where to start and all the details of the task fell on top of me at once and overwhelmed me. When I was in the hospital with Aubade earlier this month, especially during¬†that first night just waiting and watching without knowing what I was waiting and watching for, the nebulous pressure of the desire for progress without knowing how to define that progress was the hardest aspect of the whole ordeal. And so it makes sense that having a path forward illuminated for me, with defined steps to take, is going to be helpful now in the pursuit of¬†hope and healing in these emotional issues.

The long-term goals are¬†mine, so they aren’t exactly measurable or professional; I just want to be rid of the irrational anxiety and to feel happier in general. The short-term assignments, however, are incredibly specific. Every day my “homework” is to get out of bed, shower, and get dressed in something other than pajamas (before my husband has to leave for school), and five days a week I need to spend some time outside. These are very doable things, even if they aren’t always¬†easy things, depending on just how bad I’m feeling when I wake up, and that’s the point. Setting a goal and meeting that goal is going to give me quantifiable substance to refute the negative self-talk of the depression, and it’s also going to help me build a routine of self-care to help mitigate the negative emotional effects of the depression. While they may seem incredibly trivial to someone who isn’t struggling mentally or emotionally (they’re things I’ve definitely taken for granted in the past), they give me an attainable standard for my day and supply some “knowns” to fill in the horrible vast stretch of time that is each day in which I’m responsible for myself and my children and all of our activities.

I was explaining this to my husband by saying that if I get up, shower, get dressed, get outside, and make a healthy dinner for the family, I can define that as a successful day. I can lower my standards, in essence, to something definable and attainable, instead of reaching for an unknown and ever-changing perfection. Obviously the less measurable metrics of success are more important, as my husband pointed out: did I love my children? Did I live by faith? Did I seek God? Did I live an abundant and beautiful human life? etc. And those are things I strive for. But those are things I can never do perfectly or completely. I can always love my children better! So if that is my metric for success, I will always fall short, and I will always look back on the day with guilt for the sharp words and the missed opportunities instead of with happiness over the fun shared and the relationships built.

Could I have created this set of goals and standards on my own, and reframed success this way without help? It seems simple, but I probably couldn’t have. Having an outside source help formulate the plan validates it in a way my depression can’t so easily attack – if it had come just from me, I’d probably work it into my depressive tailspin by bemoaning how pathetic I was for needing to stipulate such small and trivial things. So I am quite glad I finally stopped worrying about whether or not I actually needed help, and stopped caring about what it would mean about me that I did need help, and actually went and got help. I would recommend it to anyone out there who might think some help would be nice – you don’t have to be non-functional or suicidal to benefit from a listening ear and some experienced guidance.

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Posted in musings

Is God’s love enough?

Oh I’m running to your arms
I’m running to your arms
The riches of your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

These are the type of lyrics that often send me into a defensive, guilty tailspin. If the riches of God’s love are really enough for me, really sufficient for me, why do I still need and crave other things? Why is the love and companionship of others so essential if all I should need is God’s love? And why do I need doctors or medicines or therapists if His love alone will “always be enough”?

But what I realized this morning is that all those things – family, friends, books, food, music, nature, and yes, even psychiatric medicines – are expressions, manifestations, gifts of His love, His love itself overflowing abundantly into our world and our lives. There should be no shame in enjoying or even needing those things; they are blessings of the goodness of God poured out for us. Accepting that help doesn’t mean we don’t trust God enough, but rather that we are humble enough to accept His help and love in whatever way it comes, however mundane and through whatever human conduit.

His love is indeed always enough; it just doesn’t always appear the way we think it should.

Posted in musings

fake news and the stigmatization of the other

I have Facebook friends who span the political spectrum (although most are fairly moderate), and I’ve lately found myself surprised and disappointed by articles that are shared or liked by people who I considered wise and mature. A lot of them aren’t even true, and in fact are verifiably untrue with only a brief amount of research – they aren’t contentious points but outright lies.

But what bothers me more than that is my friends’ desire for them to be true.

Here’s an example:

A friend of mine liked an article claiming that Angola has banned Islam and is destroying mosques. I can guarantee that if the religion was swapped and Christianity or Judaism were being banned, and churches or synagogues destroyed, my friend would be outraged and (rightly) condemn the affront to religious freedom. So why is it different with Islam? What happened to “do as you would be done by?”

I believe that, for him, Islam has been completely othered. He is reacting out of a fear of terrorism and a (rightful) disdain for the human rights abuses found in many majority Muslim countries. So instead of perceiving the individual Muslim following their faith with piety and in peace, he sees only the most violent expression of Islamic ideology, and paints all Muslims with that brush. And again, what happened to the golden rule? He would never tolerate a similar stereotype perpetrated against Christians or Jews.

I think it is important for us to remember, as Christians, that people of different faiths are still people, still bearers of the image of God, still entitled to human rights and worthy to be treated with dignity and respect. It is not Christian to deny the humanity and freedom of certain persons just because of their faith, when it is an obvious truth that people of all faiths and none commit crimes and, yes, even acts of terror. And yet that is what we end up doing when we think of Muslims as the other instead of as fellow humans.

And in case you were wondering about Angola… they don’t exactly have a good track record with religious minorities, and they have torn down a few mosques (and many churches) for being built without a permit – but they haven’t banned anything. And even if they had, it would be cause for sadness at that violation of religious freedom, not something to “like” and encourage the US to emulate.

Posted in family life

doctors and medicines (in which everyone is sick in various ways)

Well, it’s been a busy few weeks here. To be honest, it’s been harder since Aubade’s birth than I expected it would be, considering that this is our third baby (so we should have more confidence and experience by now) and that she is a significantly easier baby than the first two. It seems like life just keeps throwing curveballs at us…

To begin with, my physical and emotional recovery from the birth has been a bit more complicated this time around, what with the severe tear on the physical side and the postpartum depression and anxiety on the emotional side. Those baby blues I wrote about last month escalated into depression and anxiety so bad that they were making it hard for me to get out of bed and be present with the kids every day; I would get up and shower because I wanted to keep the tear clean, and force myself to get dressed in presentable clothes, because if I didn’t I would just curl up under the covers and feel horrible. My husband would get home from school and I would take Aubade up to bed with me and hide from the world, so overwhelmed from the few hours of parenting on my own. I wasn’t interested in anything at all, really, but I was devouring books just to keep my mind off of real life and to drown out the thoughts of fear and guilt that kept pouring in. And the anxiety – of being left alone with the kids, of driving, of leaving the house, of talking to people outside my family, of letting everyone down, of being “crazy”, and so on – was so strong (despite its obvious irrationality) that I would have waves of pain course through my chest.

My OB treated me with a series of progesterone shots, operating on the principle that the sudden decrease in progesterone at the end of pregnancy can throw the whole hormonal system out of sync and cause PPD/PPA. Fortunately my husband was able to take care of some of them at home so I didn’t have to set up an appointment every other day for the whole series! And they definitely took the edge off of the negative emotions. The first day it felt like I was on a high – much better than normal – and I thought maybe that’s how things would settle in… but no such luck. I’m still in a hole, but it’s not as deep as it was, and some days I feel like I might be climbing out of it.

In the middle of all of this, we started getting sick. Apparently it had been a mild winter here in the illness department, but February brought all the germs with it and everyone across the valley is catching and spreading disease. Naively I thought that Aubade would be safe from anything going around because her immune system would be bolstered by mine since she’s exclusively breastfeeding, but it didn’t work out that way. Last Thursday I took all three kids to their pediatrician and after prescribing albuterol, antibiotics, and steroids for the boys she told me to take Aubade straight to the ER at the children’s hospital by our house. I was in shock. The boys had never been sick as newborns, so I didn’t realize how differently a serious illness could present in a newborn as opposed to an older baby or toddler. But because they have fewer energy reserves to draw on, and because they don’t know how to breathe through their mouths, an upper respiratory infection that might just cause a cough and a runny nose in a toddler can accelerate a baby’s breathing rate to the point of exhaustion.

The ER took Aubade’s symptoms as seriously as our pediatrician had; we were in a room within 30 minutes, which is quite impressive for a busy urban emergency department, and within another 30 minutes a respiratory therapist had evaluated her and hooked her up to a high-flow oxygen machine. (The high-flow machine pushes air¬†gently down the baby’s airways, so that they don’t have to work so hard to pull air in past all the¬†congestion in their nose and lungs; the oxygen concentration¬†was originally set twice as high as normal air but they told me it was really the pressure more than the oxygen that she needed.) May I note in passing how much I appreciated the ER nurses? Fast, competent, and caring without a hint of saccharine, they inspired confidence and relieved my anxieties without minimizing¬†Aubade’s condition. Even before the respiratory therapist arrived, they had suctioned out her nose and lungs, and did so again a few hours later when her breathing began to worsen. The pediatric nurses we had after transferring out of the ER that evening were not so wonderful by comparison, though they weren’t bad by any means.

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Aubade in the ER

So… she ended up being in the hospital for the next two nights. The boys slept over at my mom’s house for one of those nights and the first night we had her back home; my husband fought off a stomach bug and tried to keep up with school and job applications and laundry; I sat in the hospital with Aubade and held her and watched movies and tried to sleep. It was rough, even though I¬†could tell she was slowly improving the whole time we were there. RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) usually peaks around the fifth or sixth day, which is when we were in the hospital, so we were able to adequately support her breathing through the worst of it.

Rondel and Limerick caught the same virus, and both presented with coughs and ear infections, but since they are older it wasn’t as dangerous. Rondel is now on a preventative steroid inhalant, though, as every cold he gets turns into a cough – he’s been on Albuterol at least four times just this winter. I’m hoping it will help, and I’m also hoping it isn’t a sign that he’ll be officially diagnosed with asthma at some point in the future. I suppose the silver lining of all this is that my prayer life and relationship with the saints are both growing… that daily shower is a good time to maintain spiritual health as well as physical and emotional health, with a morning prayer thrown in with the shampooing and all. Better that than nothing, anyway, and I know the kids won’t distract me then.

But hopefully the rest of my maternity leave goes a bit better! We’ve still got a spring break trip up north, summer internship applications, physical therapy, and maybe a visit to a psychiatrist to fit in to these next five weeks, on top of the regular demands of school, parenting, and running a home… so if we can stay healthy (physically and mentally) it would be great ūüôā

Posted in musings

growing beets

Our garden is starting to look lush and green again, now that harvest is at hand for the winter vegetables.

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It’s mostly beets… the cilantro didn’t grow this year, the carrots only made half-hearted attempts at it, and the one stand of dill that made it is off in the other corner of the raised bed. I do miss the cilantro, but beets are better than nothing I suppose! The effusion of green helps lift my spirits, though, even if half of what I planted never grew, and beets are lovely plants.

These particular beets ought to be ready to pull and eat by now, but the few that we’ve tried have been all leaves and no beets. It’s rather disappointing, even though beet greens are also good to eat, to find no dark red bulb waiting beneath the soil like hidden treasure. The soil was finally loose and rich (and not clay!) this year, which was our problem in past years; I think perhaps it was too rich as I recall reading somewhere that excess nitrogen can cause root vegetables to overproduce leaves instead. But who knows.

It makes me wonder if my¬†life has (or can have) the same sort of imbalance – an overproduction of the things that look good from a distance, or in a casual acquaintance, and an absence of the things that are hidden and deep. Do I put all my energy and resources into looking like a good mom when I’m out in public, or do I give¬†significantly of myself in loving and guiding my children at home when no one is watching? Is my goal to be known by my church community as someone who knows the Bible and has all the answers ready, or is my goal to know and love God and His words and His people? Do I work hard at home and at my job for the praise and appreciation of my family and coworkers, or for the inner satisfaction of excellence? To be honest with you, it’s often a struggle. I want both things, of course – both the leafy greens and the red beets are good! But when I have finite time and limited resources, I’m tempted to devote myself to the cultivation of greens at the expense of the beets: to make sure everything¬†looks okay instead of making sure everything¬†is¬†good and right under the surface and behind the scenes. And in so doing, I end up with the same unfortunate imbalance from which my garden suffers, as beautiful as it is above ground.

Posted in musings

learning to know the saints (slowly and rather awkwardly)

Just a month or so ago I noticed that while I believe in the community of saints (that is, I believe that the church is the body of Christ, so the part of the body here on earth – us – is still one with the part of the body in heaven – the saints – and we are thus able to have some type of connection or relationship with them), I didn’t really know much about the any of the saints, and I didn’t have a particular relationship with or devotion to any of them except the Virgin Mary. It felt too contrived to try to pick a saint on my own, so I just registered my thought and moved on. I figured it would be best to let such relationships develop naturally, as my relationship with Mary has.

Well, earlier this year, as you know, kind of for the fun of it and to satisfy my curiosity, I used the random saint generator to find a saint of the year for myself, and was given St. Jude, the patron of hopeless and desperate causes. Interesting, I thought. I didn’t feel a connection, so I again registered it and moved on. I read the book of Jude but that was it.

Then I was hit by postpartum depression and anxiety at full force. It was obviously and drastically worse than the transitional sadness and fatigue I’d had the first couple weeks after Aubade was born; it was a massive effort just to get out of bed, and I felt like all my time and emotional energy was expended just in rolling away the negative thoughts that kept intruding into my mind. I would hear a sound (like a car in the bank parking lot behind our house, or a door opening downstairs) and feel stabbing anxiety pain course through my body in the half second before realizing what it was. And I was starting to build escapist fantasies in the back of my mind, because I just wanted to be at peace and peace felt so unattainable.

Hmm… a situation in which I was left feeling completely hopeless and desperate for help… and a patron saint whose speciality is in interceding for hopeless and desperate causes… maybe, I thought, that random saint generator wasn’t completely random. So, feeling very awkward and not really knowing what to say, I asked St. Jude if he would pray for me in this situation. After all, what is the worst that could happen? Nothing? And at best, he would hear my request and pray for my healing and peace; a saint living in eternity, championing the hopeless and lost, probably is better about consistently praying for his supplicants than the average busy and distracted friend (of course, I might just be extrapolating from my own inconsistent prayer life).

There is of course no way to verify that St. Jude did anything, but I know that I was able to fight my social anxiety enough to go to the new moms’ community after church two weeks ago, and that the only other woman there that week was an experienced mom who encouraged me spiritually and suggested I call my doctor; I know that instead of spinning into a hole of endless research and indecision I actually did call my doctor; I know that my husband and I started praying together every night, which we’ve never done before and which has really comforted and supported me; and I know that the progesterone shots my doctor prescribed, while not completely knocking out the PPD/PPA, have made me much more functional and given back a lot of the joy in my life. In other words, things don’t feel so hopeless anymore. If nothing else, I feel like someone outside of God and my family (namely, St. Jude) cares about me and how I’m doing emotionally and as a mother – that they are standing beside me before God, praying on my behalf.

I still think I’d like to let my relationships with the saints develop slowly and naturally, at their own pace, but I’m very glad that I’ve made the acquaintance of one of them this year so far, and I think I owe him some thanks.